This is a topic that’s been weighing on my heart a lot over the last year, particularly in recent weeks.
In my conservative days, authoritarianism reigned supreme. We were told what to believe. We were told not to question. We were told not to disagree. We were told that if someone did not have the same beliefs as us, they were dangerous. They were anathema. They were “otherized”.
We did not care how “The Others” felt when we wrote up our scathing reviews of their books, sermons, beliefs. All we knew was that we had a mandate to proclaim the truth and people could either accept that or get the hell out of the way.
Those who had the audacity to disagree with leadership or predetermined narratives found themselves the subject of various attempts to bully or shame them into silence or conformity.
I think we all have experiences we can share of our time in conservatism of being bullied or shamed in some way into conforming to the status quo.
I’m reminded of the case of Rob Bell.
This is a man who came from evangelical roots and was once was regarded as man of God in mainstream evangelicalism. He pastored a megachurch where he would walk his congregation through Scripture each week.
But then he stopped listening to the authoritarians in his life and began to ask questions.
He began to doubt.
He began to look at the Bible in a different way than Evangelical culture allows.
He began to teach in ways that were not approved of by many in evangelicalism. Eventually, he wrote a book in which he revealed the conclusions he’d come to after his season of doubt and study.
And he was publicly shamed and dismissed as a heretic.
John Piper tweeted his apparent dismissal of Rob Bell as his brother in Christ with a link to a Gospel Coalition article.
Rob Bell became the dangerous wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I’m ashamed to say that I participated in that shaming by engaging in discussion, both privately amongst friends and online in more public spheres, and agreed with the narrative which said that Bell had lost his way and likely wasn’t a Christian.
All because he asked questions that the people in our shared subculture weren’t comfortable asking themselves. Because he dared to go against the grain on widely accepted doctrines and narratives.
So he was shunned. He paid the price for not falling in line the way Evangelical culture demanded and submitting to the reigning authoritarian narrative.
It wasn’t until years later that I began to open up to empathizing with his side of the story. My heart broke for him, and all the pain he and his family must have felt. I had true remorse for my tiny part in that. If I could take it back, I would.
(And if in some miraculous way Rob Bell ever should read this: I am sorry for listening to hurtful narratives. I am sorry for perpetuating shame culture and being any part of the hurt in your life)
When I moved away from the authoritarianism of conservative culture, I was excited to finally live in a world where people are treated as equals. Respect is given mutually. Each person is entrusted to think for themselves. Disagreement would be confronted through reasoned discussion rather than shame tactics. Us v Them and the “in/out crowd” thinking wouldn’t exist in Progressive Land. It would all be a thing of the past. Because we’re progressives and we know better.
While I have found this to be the case with many, I’m sad to say that there is a very vocal group within the progressive movement that, while their beliefs have shifted quite dramatically, still cling to the black and white authoritarianism they’d been raised with.
There’s no room or space for those who think differently. Those who question. Those who don’t conform nicely to this idea of what “being woke” should look like, and shaming tactics are doled out freely. As it is over on the conservative side of the fence, shaming those who don’t conform is always disguised under a mask of “speaking love in truth”.
This is a problem, friends.
Often people forget that, while change is possible, it only very rarely happens overnight.
So when, for example, someone who is not LGBTQ+ affirming makes a comment about how they don’t yet know where they stand and aren’t yet prepared to make statements of affirmation, the claws of progressives can quickly be revealed.
Empathy is forgotten.
The entire process of waking up to a new worldview is forgotten.
Even personal experience can be forgotten in favour of attempting to shame a person into conformity.
Think back to your own shift from conservative theology to progressive theology on any topic: LGBTQ+, abortion, women in leadership, inerrancy of Scripture, doctrines of salvation and Hell. You may have experienced a conversion event similar to that of Paul’s, but I’m willing to bet good money that your shift was much more slow and gradual.
This is the normal process for anyone who changes their thinking on any topic. It takes time. Time to think, time to reason, time to process. It takes time for feelings around the topic to shift.
Heck, it takes time to allow yourself the freedom to even begin to consider a new worldview before any of that can start. This becomes exponentially more difficult when you come from a subculture, where many of us did, in which certain things were turned into gospel issues.
That’s a lot to work through before finding yourself on the other side of the fence in Progressive Land.
And yet, there’s a tendency amongst progressives (particularly in online spaces) to believe that if they fight and push and shame someone who has not yet arrived where they have, they are doing God’s work. There’s a knee jerk reaction to punish anyone who does not yet hold their views. The idea is that they are creating a safe place for the marginalized.
Sadly, they instead create a very unsafe place for people to exist and work through the many things they need to work through in order to fully become “woke”.
This isn’t how Jesus worked. It’s not kind. It’s not compassionate.
Who was Jesus most aggressively and passionately against? The religious leaders who were actively abusing the people under their leadership.
Not the person He happened to come across who just disagreed with Him. In fact, Christ enjoyed deep conversations.
Now, I want to be clear about what I’m not saying:
I am not saying that harmful doctrines have validity. I am saying that we must never confuse the doctrine for the people who espouse it; the people who hold those doctrines are still people with feelings. They need to be treated with the same respect and compassion you’d want bestowed upon you were you in their shoes.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. -Matthew 7:12 (NIV)
I am not saying that if we come across open homophobia or transphobia, or some other form of harmful discrimination that we should sit quietly by and allow people to be hurt by it.
Call it out. Confront it. By all means. If they are making a place dangerous, find ways to protect those who need protecting.
Set whatever boundaries need to be set.
– Isaiah 1:17(NIV)
But! Remember that you are talking to a human being with feelings. A person who genuinely believes what you did not so very long ago. A person who still deserves to be treated kindly.
We must never attack when what they are saying is not meant to be an attack. Do not respond with more aggression than the situation calls for.
This often means being very mindful of your own emotions and mental health in a particular situation, and knowing when you need to walk away.
Also be aware that I am not saying that if you are the target of hurtful discussion (or find yourself being triggered due to past trauma), you have an obligation to put yourself in/remain in a position to be hurt. You can walk away. You can reach out for help.
Your first responsibility is to care for yourself and find ways to remain outside the “red zone” of the fight or flight crisis mode many of us hit when triggered.
The fight impulse that presents itself when we hit the “red zone” is often to try to force the person/people in question to just understand how wrong they are.
For many of us, this impulse can be fuelled when others take up the cause alongside us and pile on (a common occurrence in online conversation, which can be very troubling).
Often, this leads to gossip and attempts to hurt the nonconformist by turning people against them and shunning them.
But that’s not helpful.
When have you ever changed by being told that you were wrong? Or having people shame you for your supposed sin?
I’m going to assume that accusations of being wrong make you feel shamed. That feeling of shame is not conducive to learning.
On the other hand, how do you feel when someone comes to you to sincerely try and understand why you believe what you do and tries to ask, in a respectful way, if you could consider another perspective?
I’m willing to guess that, out of the two approaches, the latter is far more effective in helping you consider alternative views.
If the person you’re talking to doesn’t immediately agree? That’s fine. I’d worry about the person who caves every time an alternative view is presented and they immediately accept it. That’s a person who’s going to find themselves in a lot of trouble over the course of their lives.
Resisting new ideas is normal and even healthy. That’s how we protect ourselves from the outside world.
That’s also why change in beliefs and values don’t, typically, happen overnight. It’s both unrealistic to think that it could happen, and deeply unfair to that individual to expect it should happen.
Give them time to think. Give them time to process. Give them time to open themselves up to questioning. Let them know you’re there for more discussion if they should choose.
But let them be in charge of which way they go on the issue.
No one can be bullied or shamed into truth.
And no one wins when we turn to authoritarianism or bullying to make our points.
Let’s all be the people Mr Rogers knew we could be =)
28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. – Mark 12 (NIV)